Researchers, parents, students, politicians, indeed all stake-holders in education agree that good teachers are essential to helping students learn. Furthermore, there is broad consensus that improved training and support for teachers is also essential to student learning and as a result many districts are “investing heavily in professional development and emphasizing collaboration among educators.” This according to a recent article titled The Science of Teacher Development which appeared in the December 1, 2010 issue of Education Week.
However, perhaps the biggest challenges surrounding professional development are the specific needs of those whom this ‘training’ is aimed to help. In our classrooms, teachers are expected to differentiate instruction to meet the specific learning needs of our students. Yet in the arena of professional development some districts implement a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teacher training. Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond states that “we need to move away from the current system of professional development of teachers, which is focused more on triage than on helping improve the overall clinical practice of teaching within a school.”
Teachers first MUST become masters of their content and curriculum. Contrary to the recent statements by U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, I believe advanced course work and degrees are essential to a teacher’s professional development provided the course work is purposeful and are completed with an appropriate approach to scholarship. Angelo Collins stated that “improving teaching requires the kind of deep focus on content knowledge and innovations in delivery to all students that can only come when teachers are given opportunities to learn from experts and one another, and to pursue teaching as a scientific process in which new approaches are shared, tested, and continually refined….” (The Science of Teacher Development) Collins further says that “the challenge is not to create intense and in-depth educator learning for its own sake, but to create thriving classrooms for learners.”
In the current financial situation which most schools now find themselves it is essential that teachers take advantage of professional development opportunities which are supported (paid for) by the district and to communicate with leaders about how these opportunities are structured. Furthermore, teachers need to continue their own learning specific to their content area. Consider subscribing to professional associations specific to your content and/or attending their corresponding annual meetings/conventions. Most, if not all of the annual dues associated with these organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies, are tax deductible and they produce relevant publications which facilitate the ‘deep focus of content’ necessary for professional growth. Also, there are many, many websites and blogs which explore a variety of topics surrounding teaching and education. A few are linked to the left of this article and this blog in particular is aimed to engage the development of teachers.
Finally, as teachers we need to think differently about how we collaborate. A meeting doesn’t always have to be face-to-face. While I personally prefer the opportunity to work and meet with colleagues this way, given schedules and a current lack of dollars to facilitate this dialogue, opportunities are limited. Some of the best dialogue I have about teaching in my content area is with a teacher from another district. We talk via email and make a point to get together once or twice a year usually at a conference. Also, with the emergence of professional networking sites such as The Educator’s PLN, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with other teachers all over the country. These potential relationships can be fruitful to professional growth as stated by a teacher in the aforementioned article, “they are more important than my professors in grad school and my teacher-mentor program, which were significant, but now past. They’ve developed with me over time.”
We own our professionalism and we owe it to our students, to ourselves, and to the communities in which we teach to be thoughtful and deliberate in our scholarship and development as educators.